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Arkush: Is Cinderella at Bears' rookie minicamp?

Tight end Greenwell seeks the glass slipper

It is 52.2 miles from Joliet to Lake Forest as the crow flies, 69.5 miles if you choose to drive it and just a 31-mile ride to Bourbonnais.

For former St. Francis University (Joliet) tight end Dustin Greenwell those stops on the map might as well be in different solar systems. Or are they?

The Bears rookie minicamp this weekend at Halas Hall features the Bears eight 2014 draft picks, 12 undrafted rookie free agents, six first-year veterans and 38 players who’ve been invited to camp for the weekend to work out knowing that after Sunday their pro football careers most likely will be over.

The best each of those 38 young men can hope for is to show enough this weekend to steal a spot on the Bears] 90-man roster and a trip to Bourbonnais in July.

Right now all these 38 kids have are dreams.

But everyone deserves to have dreams and lightning does strike. Of all the kids I’ve observed the first two days of rookie minicamp, Greenwell has the look of one most likely to wrangle a lightning bolt.

How big is the leap? Greenwell caught 89 passes for 10 touchdowns in his Fighting Saints career – who knew saints actually fought? – including 39 catches for 455 yards and four TDs his senior year, playing NAIA football.

What is the level of competition in the NAIA? NAIA football schools include Peru State College in Nebraska, Presentation College in South Dakota, Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas, MidAmerica Nazarene University in Kansas, Trinity International University in Deerfield and Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais to name a few.

How rare is it for a Fighting Saint to attend an NFL training camp? The only other time it’s happened was when receiver Dempsey Norman was drafted by the then Phoenix Cardinals in the 11th round in 1990.

OK, so all that’s the hard part. But now consider this:

Greenwell is 6-foot-4, 240 pounds and he ran a 4.67-second 40-yard dash at an NFL regional combine in Tampa Bay, Florida. That got him invited to a Super Regional Combine in Detroit, where he ran 4.77, benched 225 pounds 24 times and posted a 41-inch vertical leap.

Those are NFL-type numbers and they got him to the Northern Illinois Pro Day where the Bears and a number of other clubs saw him and the Bears extended his invite to rookie camp.

In all likelihood his dream is about to end, but if it does he’ll go home to Fort Meyers, Florida, knowing he was arguably the most impressive receiver at the Bears' rookie camp and he drew plaudits for effort and technique in blocking drills as well.

Greenwell knows what a long shot he is, but he told me the only way he can approach it is it’s not over until it’s over.

“I’m just coming out here and doing everything I’m told to do. I’ve finished all my classes and I just have an internship to serve before I get my degree, but right now I’m just focused on playing football.

"If it doesn’t work out, I’ll pursue a career somewhere in sports, but right now I’m still a football player.”

He knows what a leap he’s trying to make.

“It’s tough going from being a big fish in a small pond to here, where everyone is so good, but we’re all just trying to do the same thing.”

The fact is the Bears have a real need behind Martellus Bennett at tight end, and there isn’t a single player at the position among the Bears eight draft picks and nine undrafted rookie free agents.

Maybe I’m just a sucker for a Cinderella story? Actually, I know I am.

But watching Greenwell run routes and catch the ball in his 86 Bears jersey, you’d swear he was a fit for at least the 90-man roster if you didn’t know his backstory.

I for one am pulling for him to make it to Bourbonnais at least, if not all the way back to Halas Hall.

* Hub Arkush cover the Bears for ChicagoFootball.com. He can be reached at harkush@chicagofootball.com or on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.

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